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Field Survey: Rathcore Golf and Country Club

This survey is intended to give the reader an overview of the ancient monuments located on the grounds of Rathcore Golf and Country Club in the townland of Rathcore in south County Meath. The monuments are silent testimony to continuous human activity in these lands from the Bronze Age. The recorded history associated with the monuments also give an indication of the strategic importance of Rathcore in the early 9 th century right up to and including the Norman era.

The townland of Rathcore forms part of the parish of Enfield and Rathmolyon in south County Meath, in the Barony of Moyfenrath. The name of Rathcore is an anglicised version of its ancient name Dun Cuair meaning Cuair’s dun or rath. (O'Donovan, 2001). Rathcore Golf and Country Club is located 3.5km north by north-west of the village of Enfield. From the village take the Rathmolyon/Trim road, then the first left turn and then the next right, continuing past Jordanstown Church. Take the next left after the church and travel almost to the end of this road, where access to the monuments is through the main gate of the golf club. 1

The 130-acre golf course site contains two recorded ringforts and a recorded motte. (Moore, 1987). As part of the process for developing the land into a golf course, a pre-development archaeological assessment was carried out in 1999 to accompany the planning permission application for the development. This identified one additional potential archaeological site (Meenan, 1999). In 2002, an archaeological survey of the lands was carried out, and this identified an additional site thought to be a fulacht fiadh. (Clutterbuck, 2003). This was not the site that was identified in the 1999 survey.

1 Entrance to the monuments requires permission from the owners of the club.

The fields, which contain the monuments have been farmed from ancient times until recently when they were developed along with surrounding lands to become part of the golf course. The natural landscape of the land has been drastically altered in the building of the course. As protected monuments, the raths or motte were not disturbed but much of the area of land surrounding them was, and many artificial mounds and hills were built so now it is difficult to get an overall sense of the natural landscape of the site. The fields surrounding the golf course are naturally undulating farmland of grass and tillage and they, however, have remained unaltered, thus giving some idea of the natural landscape.

On the golf course site there are two streams, one of which forms the boundary of the golf course with a neighbouring farm. This stream also marks the boundary of the townlands of Ballinaskea and Rathcore. The second stream is a tributary of the first and it runs through the golf course site. Its course was altered so that it could be incorporated into the artificial water features of the course and it is now mostly running underground. It also marks the boundary of the townlands of Rathcore and Jordanstown, although it is mostly not now visible on the landscape.

The Archaeological Evidence

The description of the two ringforts and the motte on the site are taken from the files of the Archaeological Survey accessed in the office of the National Monuments Service, Dublin IN April 2009. These surveys were carried out in the years 1969-70 and added to in 1984-5; I have also included some of my own observations on changes to the monuments since these surveys were carried out.

SMR48:003

On entering the golf course by the golfer’s route, the first of the monuments comes into view to the east. It is the largest in size of the two ringforts on the site and is situated on the south slope of a small hill. The interior of the ringfort is almost circular in shape with its diameter measuring 50m east-north-east – west-south-west and 52m north-north-west – south-south- east. It is surrounded by a broad U-shaped fosse (Fig1). There is a visible gap in the bank at north-north-east and this may be the original entrance (Fig 2). There are also two other gaps in the bank but these are more likely recent alterations. They are at the east and south-south- west side.

The original survey in 1969 noted that one side of the entrance was lined with spalls. It also recorded wide cultivation ridges running east-west through the interior but these, however, are not now visible. The south bank of the rath is now covered in hawthorn, elder and briars making this area difficult to investigate.

SMR48:004

Leaving that ringfort and walking east-north-east, the second ringfort can easily be seen ahead as it is situated on top of a fairly high round hillock (Fig 3). The interior is broad oval in shape measuring 28m north-north-east – south-south-west and 22m west-north-west – east- south-east. There are only slight remains of an earthen bank surrounding it. A possible entrance is at north-north-east where there is a narrow gap in the bank. On the west side there is also a smaller gap possibly made by cattle. The 1969 surveyor recorded that directly inside this gap there were some depressions in the ground, possibly the remains of a souterrain. The first depression was recorded as roughly circular, with a smaller one to its east, and these were linked by a narrow curving depression. The depressions are still somewhat visible today but seem to have deteriorated into one. The ringfort is surrounded by whitethorn trees and briars in places (Fig 4 & 5).

SMR48:5

The motte is situated east of this rath in the townland of Jordanstown. It is accessed by crossing the stream that marks the townland boundary between Rathcore and Jordanstown.

The motte is situated on top of a natural hillock on a ridge that runs north-north-west – south- south-east (Fig 6). The 1969 survey records “no definite traces of antiquity at this site” but the subsequent survey of 1985 states that a motte did stand on top of this natural hill. What remains at present is a flat-topped mound measuring 12.5m north-south and 9m east-west (Fig 7). On the east side of the mound there is an old quarry hole which destroys the natural slope of the hill but the top of the motte is clearly round on this side where it is 1m higher than the natural slope of the hill. The hill is covered in furze bushes on the south side and overgrown with bushes and briars on the other sides so it is difficult to visualize the area mentioned in the 1985 survey. As with many such sites there is a single tree growing on top of it.

The Fulacht Fiadh

This site directly south-east of the motte was identified in the Meath County Council Field Monuments advisor during the development stage of the golf course. A condition of the planning permission was that archeological monitoring of the site was carried out prior to development and as part of this task, soil-stripping was carried out and subsequently a burnt mound was discovered on the proposed site of green 3.

It was visible as an area of black soil with sandstone and charcoal, situated on the margin of an area of marshy water-logged ground. A further area measuring c. 20m in diameter could be seen as a raised area nearby, close to the proposed green 3. The site appeared to be a burnt mound or a possible fulacht fiadh. No further archeological investigation was carried out, and the burnt area was re-covered with soil. The proposed design of the green was altered in order to avoid the site. The area was not marked in any manner and is not now visible on the ground due to being overgrown.

The potential archaeological site:

This area which was identified in initial archaeological report of 1999 is situated north-east of the motte. The site was believed to be the remains of a small ringfort. It was visible as a kink in a field fence, semicircular in shape and approximately 20m in diameter (Fig 8). During the development of the golf course, it became apparent that this site would be impacted upon by the removal of the natural field boundary. The recommendation was that the field boundary could be removed but that no further ground disturbance could take place. The work was carried out under supervision and the area of the potential archeological site was built up with soil in order to protect it and to define its position.

These are the known archaeological sites on the golf course. The monitoring by soil-stripping process was carried out over all of the planned eighteen greens and tees but no further archaeological features were discovered.

The Recorded Historical Evidence

The earliest evidence of human habitation around the immediate area of the golf course comes from an early Bronze Age axe that accompanied a single burial site which was found in the townland of Jordanstown, in the eastern most part of the grounds of Ryndville House (Harbison, 1968). This site is just about 2 kilometers east of the golf course.

The oldest known written record of Rathcore is from the 9 th century. Rathcore (its ancient name was Dun Cuair) was, at that time, in the part of the country that was ruled by the Cenél Coirpri branch of the Uí Néill family (Keating). From the annals, it appears that Dun Cuair was a prominent settlement and/or ceremonial site of the Uí Néill clan. Lying close to the border with Leinster, it hosted gatherings of the Uí Néills for both ceremonial occasions and as a meeting place for the clan before its attacks on the neighbouring kingdom of Leinster. In AD 804, Áed Oirdnide, the Uí Neill King brought an army to Dun Cuair from where he caused the devastation, twice in one month of the Kingdom of Laigin (Leinster). In the same year at Dun Cuair there was a meeting of the synods of the Uí Neill clan, presided over by Connmach Abbott of Armagh. In AD 805, from Dun Cuair Áed Oirdnide enforced a division of Laigin between two kings, Muireadhach, son of Ruaraidh and Muireadhach, son of Bran. (AU 804.7/805.7/818.6)

With reference to the geographical importance of Rathcore, Geissel (2006) contends that there is evidence to suggest that the route from Clonmacnoise or Galway to Dublin on the Slighe Mhor would have deviated at Clonard to Dun Cuair and on to Tara. Taken in the context of above recorded frequent gatherings of the Uí Neill at Dun Cuair, this would seem a feasible route.

Keating mentions that at the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111, “Carn Duin Cuair” was to form the southern border of the See of Daimhliag (Duleek). This is the only record of “Cairn” Dun Cuair. It is an interesting reference as there is no cairn visible on the landscape today but I make reference to it in the context of the 1969 surveyor’s intriguing description of the hill on which the motte stands as “a natural truncated cone shaped sandhill”.

Conclusion

As can be seen from the accompanying map, there is a significant cluster of archaeological sites in the general area of Rathcore. Apart from the monuments already cited, two other monuments lie in the immediate vicinity of the golf course at Rathcore. SMR48:6 a ringfort, 58 metres in diameter and SMR48:7 a cropmark. Because of their proximity, they could arguably be associated with the golf course sites.

From the archaeological and historical evidence outlined above, it can be seen that Rathcore was a strategically important site for the Uí Neill clan from the 9 th century and because of its historical significance was fortified by the Normans in the 12 th century.

The coming of the Normans to Ireland had a huge effect of the county of Meath; it became one of the most colonised regions of the country. The area of Rathcore in the Liberty of Meath was granted by King Henry II to the Norman Knight Sir Hugh de Lacey in 1169. The motte in the townland of Jordanstown is the only remaining visual evidence in the area of this Norman colonisation although there did exist a castle in the area in the 1600’s (Simington, 1940). The building of the motte at Jordanstown (very close to Dun Cuair) would seem to fit in with the Norman practice of building their fortifications at sites of previous strategic importance.

My survey has hopefully given the reader a general idea of the ancient monuments located on the grounds of Rathcore Golf and Country Club. It is gratifying to know that despite the large-scale development of recent years, because they are protected monuments, their future is safe for future generations to view and contemplate.

Bibliography

Clutterbuck, R. (2003). Archaeological Monitoring Report for the proposed golf course in Rathcore - Jordanstown, Co. Meath. Dublin: Cultural Resource Development Services Ltd.

Geissel, H. (2006). A road on the long ridge: in search of the ancient highway on the Esker Riada. Newbridge: CRS Publications.

Keating, G. (n.d.). The History of Ireland (BOOK I-II). Retrieved August 22, 2009, from CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T100054/

Moore, M. J. (1987). Archaeological inventory of County Meath . Dublin: Government Stationary Office.

O'Donovan, J. (2001). Ordnance Survey letters Meath:letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the county of Meath collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1836. Dublin: Four Masters press.

Annals of Ulster, (2009). CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College Cork. Retrieved August 20, 2009, from http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T100001A.html

Harbison, Peter (1968), Catalogue of Irish Early Bronze Age associated finds containing copper and Bronze PRIA Vol. 67

Meenan, Rosanne (1999), Archaeological report accompanying the Planning permission for development at Rathcore Co. Meath. Austin & Michael Lyons landowners

Simington, Robert (1940), The Civil Survey of County Meath 1654 – 56 Government Publications

Download The Archaeological Report